ANOTHER COVERUP: TOBACCO AND LUNG CANCER
We are used to hearing misinformation about health care, climate change and the national debt Many lies have been spread about these topics in an effort to keep the status quo. We, as intelligent readers, need to be aware of how misinformation is spread. Ari Rabin-Hart and Media Matters have published the book, LIES, INCORPORATED which tells you how misinformation is spread.
As early as 1912, research suggested links between tobacco and lung cancer. As additional studies were published over the decades, results became ever more conclusive. In 1953, tobacco industry leaders faced a crisis in the form of new cancer research that linked cigarette tar to cancer.
Tobacco company heads joined forces to save their lucrative industry. They hired public relations firm Hill & Knowlton (H&K), who set out a multi-pronged strategy that proved to be very successful. They established the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), which publicized scientific views holding there was no proof that cigarette smoking was a cause of cancer. They conducted ad campaigns to cast doubt on scientific consensus that smoking causes cancer. They convinced the media that there were two sides to the story about the risks of smoking, and that each side should be given equal credence. They maneuvered politicians away from policies that hurt tobacco profits. They hired Dr. Clarence Cook Little, who previously served as a director of the American Cancer Society — but who also had a belief structure grounded in the idea that genetics predetermined the sicknesses our bodies were susceptible to, including cancer — to act as a “credible” spokesperson for their disinformation campaign. They hired free-lance writers to write positive articles on behalf of the TIRC.
Before the 1953 H&K combined PR strategy, each tobacco company, in response to claims that smoking was linked to cancer, would run PR campaigns that indicated their brand of cigarettes was less harmful to your health than other brands. The new H&K strategy was cheaper and simpler: they merely had to sow seeds of doubt upon science and smear the reputations of their critics. Never mind that millions suffered and died from cancer and emphysema because of the lies spread by a PR firm; their clients continued to make big money, and that was all that mattered.
TIRC activities continued until 1964, when cancer research became so undeniable that the surgeon general required health risk warnings printed on cigarette packages. At that point, the TIRC changed its name to the Council for Tobacco Research, and they continued spreading disinformation on the harmful effects of smoking until 1998.
Memos that document H&K’s tobacco PR campaign success are publicly available at the University of California – San Francisco’s Truth Tobacco Industry Documents archive. As part of their 1998 settlement with the federal government, big tobacco companies were forced to make millions of previously secret documents public. This documentation, available at http://www.tobaccoarchives.com/ clearly demonstrates the tobacco companies’ efforts to influence policy debates over several decades.
TobaccoArchives.com is a website available to the public and litigants that provides access to millions of pages of tobacco company documents that have been produced.
The book “Lies, Incorporated – The World of Post-Truth Politics,” by Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters, explains how PR firms have adopted the successful strategies developed in H&K’s tobacco campaign to numerous other policy debates on behalf of clients who have an economic or ideological interest in maintaining the status quo, including climate change on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, health care on behalf of those opposed to government-funded programs, and the federal debt on behalf of deficit hawks.
Ask your librarian for “Lies, Incorporated” or buy a copy to read and learn more about the influential network of special interest groups who have initiated coordinated attacks on the truth to shape government policy. Then ask your US Representative and Senators to read it, too.